Batman: Arkham Knight Review

Well, they’ve finally done it. Warner have re-released Batman: Arkham Knight on PC, believing that it’s now in the fit state that it should’ve been in at its aborted launch back in June.

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To their credit, the version that’s now on sale is a lot more “PC” than the one we saw all those months back. It now happily supports 60FPS (and, indeed, 90FPS) and the options menu has a handy little GTA5-esque VRAM calculator, showing whether or not you’re going to suffer horrific framerate drops. Bonus points for that.

As a before/after, here’s a screenshot showing my settings at launch, and what I was running on at relaunch:

Arkham Knight - Settings 3
Arkham Knight - Settings 2

Nonetheless, this actually isn’t as bad as it looks. Yes, the various details have been lowered, but that’s because I’m now trying to run it at 60FPS rather than 30FPS. 30? That’s easy. But maintaining a constant framerate above that is a bit trickier.

On my mid-range machine – i7-3820, 16GB RAM, 2GB GeForce GTX 670 – those settings were giving me roughly 45-50FPS, barring a tiny bit of stuttering right at the start as the game loaded all of the assets. That’s okay by me. Doesn’t look as nice as it used to, but it runs at a higher framerate, and that’s a trade-off I’m prepared to make because it looks rather lovely anyway.

(It’s also worth noting that I turned off a few of those options for personal reasons. Chromatic Aberration and Motion Blur tend to irritate me more than anything, particularly when trying to take screenshots, and I’m not a big fan of Film Grain either. None of them had any noticeable impact on performance.)

Arkham Knight - Motion Blur Off

A screenshot? Without motion blur? I’m… I’m so happy…

I actually finished Batman: Arkham Knight all those months ago, pretty much the day it was pulled from sale. Rather than go through the entire story mode again, I spent today playing through the Season Pass content and had a little tool around in Gotham on the whole. As such, most screenshots you see here are going to be from the original launch. If I’m playing as Batgirl, Nightwing, Harley Quinn, or Red Hood, though – the four playable characters in the DLC – then it’s pretty safe to say that’s a screenshot from this re-release. If there’s motion blur, then it’s pretty safe to say it’s a screenshot from the original launch. Oh, and I won’t be talking about the DLC content here, barring this short description: one hour-long story level with a new area, and three very short missions that comprise a couple of fights and sneaking bits each. There’s still more to come, which will hopefully be a bit more sizable, but I did enjoy the new AR challenges and the extra characters.

I’m not going to talk a lot about the technical issues, either, because I didn’t encounter that many; it ran about as well as The Witcher 3 did for me, and that’s alright by me. People with mid-range machines will probably find things running okay. Not pure 60FPS unless I drop things into wireframe mode, can’t run things on high detail, etc. Pretty much what I expected.

People with AMD cards, or people with high-end machines, may struggle more; I can’t speak for AMD users, but PC Invasion’s own Scottish Scarecrow, Paul Younger, has told me that his GTX 970 can’t actually run it on full detail. So, uh, that’s maybe a bit of a problem. I’d honestly recommend trying to find someone with specs similar to yours and seeing how the game worked for them, because thoughts on the port quality have been right across the board – but there’s at least no risk in trying it out, thanks to Warner offering refunds until the end of the year.

Arkham Knight - Batgirl

I’m writing a review. Keep your Bat-pants on.

Instead, let’s talk about the game. Batman: Arkham Knight is a decent game. It is not a great game. It is not the best Arkham game. It is better than the stopgap of Arkham Origins, but nowhere near the glorious swansong we we hoping for from Rocksteady.

The typical Arkham stuff works as well as you’d expect: you’ve got the Freeflow combat where you Bat-punch villains in the face, and the Predator combat where you Bat-punch villains in the back and then Bat-grapple away into the shadows. It’s got a large slice of Gotham for you to explore, either Bat-swooping and Bat-grappling around, or maybe Bat-driving with the new Batmobile. It’s got environmental puzzles, lots of gadgets, and a frankly ludicrous amount of Riddler trophies and nods to the larger Batman mythos waiting to be spotted.

This is all fine. The combat and stealth aren’t as revolutionary and entertaining as they were back in 2009’s Arkham Asylum (“revolutionary” is maybe a bit of stretch, but they had enough twists that they felt unique) and the big open environment has been a staple of the series since Arkham City. Barring some minor tweaks like the rather entertaining Voice Synthesiser – which lets you tap into the villains’ comms and order them into traps – none of that stuff is new, and it’s hard to feel particularly impressed during any of these sections. Still entertaining, sure, but getting a little long in the tooth.

Arkham Knight - Batmobile

The Batmobile’s ability to go really fast and smash through basically everything in its path is quite appreciated, though.

The addition of the Batmobile is a thing of some contention. For my part, I love the chunky, tank-like design of it; as per usual, Rocksteady have managed to turn a familiar Batman icon into something very them. Its Battle Mode, where it turns into a tank straight out of Battlezone which has the handy ability to move latterly, is also a lovely (if highly improbable) little design touch.

On the other hand… well, the Batmobile is a bit redundant. With grappling and gliding you’ve already got one highly effective method of navigating the streets, and it’s one that doesn’t actually require you to stick to the streets. In addition to this, most of the tasks that require the Batmobile – taking out drone tanks, or racing through a Riddler-designed course – are a bit repetitive. It’s an okay addition and it’s fun to speed around, smashing everything from cars to concrete barricades out of your way, but it’s hardly a game-changer.

Arkham Knight - Face punching

Punching people in the face is 100% accounted for.

This actually ties into the second big issue I have with Arkham Knight, which is that it feels really, really bloated. Not Ubisoft levels of bloat, but in terms of “there are loads of things you can do” and “there are all these other villains not involved with the plot who have one very specific mission type assigned to them which you must repeat four times to capture them” it starts getting eerily reminiscent of recent Assassin’s Creed games.

It makes little attempt to hide this, either, with a great big wheel showing you exactly how much of each side-quest you’ve completed. Preventing Two-Face’s goons from robbing a bank is fun, but it’d be nice if each villain had more than one type of mission assigned to them, and maybe a little bit more of a story than what we actually get. This is true of a few – Azrael’s stuff isn’t half-bad – but too few.

Arkham Knight - Wheel

I may have slightly edited this screenshot to avoid spoilers, as it’s my final game completion tally. And no, there is no bloody way I’m doing all of the Riddler’s side-stuff, which is unfortunately required for the “true” ending.

But the biggest issue I have with Arkham Knight is one that I couldn’t possibly have predicted: it lacks surprises, and it lacks smarts. I mean this both in terms of mechanics and in terms of plot.

Let’s discount the not-Rocksteady Arkham Origins and think back to the previous two Arkham games. Arkham Asylum was a new, fresh idea, so it could get away with quite a lot simply by virtue of being something a bit different and being a good licensed game – but even that had moments of genius, like the Scarecrow segments, or the way the Killer Croc boss fight worked. The latter fight wasn’t hard, but it was a nice twist on the established mechanics. The same goes for the Mr. Freeze fight in Arkham City, which challenged you to perform multiple types of takedown as he hunted you down. Again, a nice twist on the mechanics, and that’s what the series’ first two games regularly managed to pull off.

Arkham Knight doesn’t really do this. With Scarecrow as the game’s primary antagonist there are some wonderful hallucinogenic, mind-bending sections; the game’s final missions, for instance, are superb, and there are a couple of boss fights that live up to the series’ highs. But for the most part it’s the same old, same old.

Batman: Arkham Knight

It does, however, do pretty vistas. Really, really well.

More depressingly, that also goes for the plot, which hews a lot closer to the comics and standard Batman mythos than previous titles. I don’t think many people really expected Arkham City to end the way it did, for instance, but you’ll probably see the ending to Arkham Knight coming from a fair way off. I could give you the title of two Batman comics right now and you’d be able to accurately guess the majority of the plot, for crying out loud.

For that matter, if you’re even reasonably familiar with Batman stuff in general, you might well have accurately guessed the identity of the titular Arkham Knight already. I had a pretty good idea long before the game actually came out, but I assumed there’d be a clever twist involved and that I’d been wrong-footed the whole way! But no. I was right. That reveal, and a number of others, fall horribly flat because of how obvious they are. I don’t know if this is because it’s the first Rocksteady Arkham game without Paul Dini on the writing team, but I have to wonder if that’s the case.

Arkham Knight - Predator

You almost feel sorry for them.

And while we’re on the subject, the Arkham Knight is a rubbish villain. Again, previous games have always managed to do something interesting with their villains; Arkham Asylum‘s Joker pretty much wanted you to get through to the end, and Arkham City‘s Hugo Strange had some mysterious plan counting down behind the scenes. The Arkham Knight mostly just shows up, talks about how he’s going to beat the Batman, loses, and then runs away/shouts at his subordinates while saying something along the lines of “I’ll get you next time, Batman!” He stops being a credible threat and starts being a weekly Saturday morning cartoon villain very, very early in the game. And that’s without some of his idiotic ideas, like using drone tanks instead of real tanks. Batman doesn’t kill, remember? He’ll have a hard time blowing them up if you have people inside them. Scarecrow fares a bit better as he’s mostly working behind the scenes and rarely directly interacting with you, but even he lacks a little compared to the previous foes.

Arkham Knight - tank

And that’s probably why you should’ve put people in them.

All of this is why I don’t like Arkham Knight nearly as much as the other games in the series (Arkham Origins excluded, because that wasn’t Rocksteady, and that really showed). Asylum and City are fantastic games that deserve all the plaudits they get. Origins was a “me too” of City, with nothing new to show for it. Arkham Knight is another “me too” with a couple of new twists, but with very little that’s stellar or groundbreaking, and with a port job that – to put it politely – has resulted in problems for a rather vocal section of the community.

For all of this, the base mechanics are still largely entertaining (I’m keeping it installed to play around more with the Challenges, because I really like that stuff), and it’s still got a lot of neat touches and a handful of genuinely superb sections that rival the heights of the rest of the series. It just lacks the drive, the verve, the surprise, and the balls-out bravery of the previous Arkham games.

If you want more Arkham gameplay then you’ll have a fairly good time, but – speaking as someone who thinks the Arkham-verse is one of the most enjoyable and unique takes on Batman in a long time, and as a world is vastly more interesting than the recent films – I can’t help but be a bit disappointed by Rocksteady’s final trip into this grim and brutal twist on Gotham.

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Tim McDonald
Tim has been playing PC games for longer than he's willing to admit. He's written for a number of publications, but has been with PC Invasion - in all its various incarnations - for over a decade. When not writing about games, Tim can occasionally be found speedrunning terrible ones, making people angry in Dota 2, or playing something obscure and random. He's also weirdly proud of his status as (probably) the Isle of Man's only professional games journalist.